Archives For Money

By Eric on November 11, 2014 2

One common question I get from people trying to create a budget for the first time, is “how many budget categories do I need?” A great question for sure, but I also think it’s the wrong question to be asking.

Short answer: As many as it takes…

On the budget spreadsheet you get for signing up for updates there are 79 sub-categories and 11 main categories.

Budget Categories for budget spreadsheet


Why so many budget categories?

When you first create a budget, the hardest part is making sure you’ve got all possible expenses covered, lest you forget something that throws a wrench in your budget during the middle of the month. You want to be proactive with creating a budget every month, instead of just tracking your expenses and trying to reverse engineer your spending.

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By Eric on November 4, 2014 +

Budgeting, saving, investing, getting a good deal, minimizing risk, and paying off debt are all big pieces to your personal finance puzzle. Together they help paint part of a picture where you are today. They are all good and should be on our to-do (or doing) list, right?

But how often do you stop and think about where you are headed?

In the muddy waters of today, we tend to lose sight of the grander vision. The horizon becomes blurry and we’re not sure if we’re even headed in the right direction anymore.

We were caught in that mess a few years ago. Spending all that we had, but just barely treading water. We had good paying jobs and nothing to show for it. Hardly any savings, and a bunch of debt.

The solution for us came in a two-part formula: Create a plan, and follow the plan.

Sounds simpler than it really is…

Creating a Plan

We couldn’t create a plan, because we didn’t know how. We were paralyzed because we didn’t know where we were going or what we should be doing. We were lost and didn’t’ know which way was North. We not only needed a map, but we needed a compass to get us pointed in the right direction.

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By Eric on October 23, 2014 7

I almost added “a used car” to the end of the title, but I think the title works as is. My point being that it doesn’t matter if you drive a used car or a new car, driving in general assumes some risk. If there weren’t risks with driving, you wouldn’t need insurance, right?

Anyway, We’ve been faced with a challenge this past weekend when I tried to leave the office last Friday evening and my car wouldn’t start. She’s a 1998 Grand Prix with about 151,000 miles. Every time I tell someone who knows something about cars that I drive a 1998 Grand Prix, they say “oh man! That engine will run forever!” Yup… if you can get it started…

Fixing the Car

By the grace of God, I was able to get it running after about 25 minutes of fighting, slamming my head against the steering wheel, and praying that it would start. Well, it did, but at the same time all the dashboard lights, brake lights, and parking lights were flashing.

Nevertheless, I made it home with the lights flashing, but once in the garage, couldn’t get it started again, and with the key out of the ignition… all the lights were still flashing.

I then spent all day Saturday trying to figure out what in the world was wrong with my baby (I’ve been driving it for over a decade now…. we go waaaay back!).

I won’t tell you the whole story, mostly because at this moment, it’s still un-written (It’s still sitting in the garage and won’t start). But, there are some key lessons in vehicle ownership, car maintenance and vehicle purchasing that can be learned from this inconvenient scenario.

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By Eric on October 14, 2014 3

My daughter is a very deep thinker, she’s cautious, and she loves routine. When Rooney has the opportunity to try something new, she first observes. I love this about her. She’s just like her Mamma. It’s not necessarily a strength of mine, so it makes for a nice balance in our house.


So, when we visit places like the Heritage Carousel of Des Moines, it can be challenging on both ends. It’s challenging as parents to drive across the city to provide your daughter with a fun experience, only to have her stare at it.

This happened at the Iowa State Fair this year. She went down the Giant Slide once with Kelsey (proof below), so the next time we went, we doubled down and bought two tickets for the slide, and she refused to go…

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset(Kelsey and Rooney are half way down the slide on the very right edge)

And it’s challenging on the other end, when she finally gives it a try, falls in love with it and never wants it to end.

Once Rooney figures something out, or takes a calculated risk and likes what she is doing, she’s all in. Focused on mastering that task, and repeating the behavior, over, and over, and over, and over again.

When she finally gets to that “a ha!” moment, my heart melts. She’s got it! She’s doing it! She’s loving it! I couldn’t be prouder.

This is how habits are formed as well, by repetition.

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By Eric on October 7, 2014 17

In preparation for the big job transition, we decided to trim our budget from some of the “luxuries” that we had become accustomed to over the years with a steady paycheck.

It’s amazing how “must-haves” in the budget can melt away when faced with a new goal and new circumstances.

Let me begin with telling you that our food budget is almost sacred territory. It’s fluctuated over the years, but it’s the first category to get an increase when we’ve gotten raises or cut back in other areas.

There are a few reasons for this…

  1. We are trying to eat healthier, which usually means a bigger grocery bill. (Organic fruits and veggies can be nearly twice the price of regular)
  2. We added a toddler to our dinner table and when the expense for formula went away, that money was moved to the food category.
  3. We like to eat, and we like to eat out when we can.

How Our Food Budget Works

Before I tell you about our food budget, let’s talk about the rest of our budget. I’m not going to get into all the numbers, but just know that before the month starts we set our budget based on our monthly bills, non-monthly bills, and savings categories. These fluctuate a little bit from month to month based on what we have going on in the month ahead, but stay fairly consistent.

If you want to start your own budget, pick up a copy of my free budget spreadsheet.

Our food budget

  • We withdraw cash from the bank on the first of the month and the 15th. We keep our food budget in $20 increments so it’s easy to pull it out from the ATM. (Our bank is right on the way to Kelsey’s work, so she does this most of the time, and then Rooney likes to say… “bye bye bank!”)
  • The cash is then split into two envelopes. Half for the first eight days, and half for the second seven days which covers us for the first half of the month. (We split the money into weeks so that we can better keep track of how we are doing throughout the week. When the money is getting low, we eat leftovers and scrounge around the house for things to eat to make the cash last until the next week.)
  • Groceries and eating out is all kept in the same pile of cash. This works for us, because we have overcome impulse spending at the grocery store (for the most part), and keep track of what we need, know how much it is going to cost, and then eat out if there is money left over. (Bottom line, we make the cash we have work. There have been several months that we have run out of cash. We don’t go hungry, and have survived every single time)

I should also say that we do have a separate category for organic grass fed beef that we order from a farm. We love Wallace Farms and fund a separate category for buying ground beef, burgers, steaks, and Nick-sticks throughout the year. We order/pay online and pick up at a church near our house.

Chopping the Food Budget

After being set in our ways with the same $600 food budget for the past year or so, Kelsey and I were both concerned with how we would handle cutting back on our food budget.

In September we cut our budget back from $600 to $500. A 17% cut… and I’m happy to report that we had just enough money in the food envelope to order Applebee’s curbside to go on the last day of the month, which also happens to be Kelsey’s birthday. Whew!

I honestly thought we would be panicking the last few weeks of the month, but again, because we separate our money out on a weekly basis, it’s easier to stay disciplined with our food budget throughout the month. Of course that lesson was learned after blowing through all our cash a few times and really having to scrimp for food in the cupboards a few times.

Sometimes we solidify numbers in our head and convince ourselves that there is no way we could ever live on less, spend less, or save more. It’s been a long time since we’ve had to squeeze our budget like the last few months, and it makes me wonder what more we could have done over the years if we hadn’t been so comfortable…

When was the last time you tried to trim something from your budget?
Was it harder or easier than expected?